Simon Wilson talks HomeGround with Kete Books


As part of their 12 Books of Christmas series, Kete interviewed Simon Wilson about HomeGround: The story of a building that changes lives

What led you to write your book? I put this book together with a series of long interviews, each of them reinforcing the inspirational nature of the one before. It was pretty exciting. The architects have given us the tallest wooden building in the country, with a very low carbon footprint, and it’s quite lovely too. The mana whenua consultants helped instil a pulsating mauri in the place. The fundraisers and the politicians on both sides worked so hard and so ingeniously to make it possible. A succession of city missioners, their staff and their boards, have a determination and an understanding of the power of respect and compassion that are deeply humbling.

If you had to give the written equivalent of an ‘elevator pitch’ for your book – about two – three sentences - on why you think others should read it, what would you say?HomeGround is a story of hope, courage and love. It’s about what happens when a whole lot of people commit their best selves to a project. Architecture, environmental values, political commitment and fundraising smarts, all in the service of great social science, compassion and healing. It’s a celebration of the good that people can do.

What did you discover in the course of writing the book that surprised you? For all the inspiration I gained from the people who made HomeGround, they’re all in the shade of some of the residents of the building. Those people are among the most traumatised members of our society but what shone through in my talks with them was their generosity, their enormous good humour and the richness of the stories they had to tell.

How did you go about writing the book and what proved to be the most challenging element?  What about the most joyful? As the interviews went on, I realised the book would work if I could unleash the voices. So, there are many long quotes and conversational sections, too. But they still all had to be woven together. While the chapters are arranged by topic – the early history of the project, the work of the City Mission, the architecture and so on – I wanted to maintain those voices throughout. It was like they were balls to keep in the air.

What feedback have you had from readers? It’s been rewarding to receive notes from reviewers and editors saying they picked this book up expecting it to be a good enough tale and found it was so much more than that.

Thinking about the summer holiday season, what are your plans?  Can you recommend a book from Aotearoa New Zealand that you’d encourage people to read during the summer holidays? I’m deep in Catherine Chidgey’s novel The Axeman’s Carnival and loving it. Who would have thought that a dangerously funny talking magpie was such a brilliant way to explore all sorts of themes about human values, violence, rural life, the national psyche and the horrifying wonders of social media? A very New Zealand satire.